A North Carolina man who opened fire inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic was arrested Friday after...
Up and down Chicago's Magnificent Mile on "Black Friday," hundreds of activists protesting the fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald by a police officer attempted to bring a halt to commerce on the busiest shopping day of the year. "I'm an American!" hollered an angry woman as she made a doomed attempt to force her way through the scrum of protesters into an Apple store"I just want to get in the store. ... I just want to shop!"
Like many shoppers inconvenienced by the protest, the seething would-be shopper, who identified herself as Marcia 60, outside the Apple store struggled to understand what McDonald's death and the 13-month delay to bring charges against the officer had to do with her. Her companion, Jay Krishnamurthy, 54, said, "the whole South Side is on fire. Why don't they tackle the violence in their own communities?" She nodded again when he said of McDonald's killing, "Mistakes do happen." Protesters blocked the entrances to dozens of high-end stores, turning a handful of customers away by force and dissuading many more simply by their presence.
Four decades after Republican President Richard Nixon coined the phrase “war on drugs,” many GOP presidential candidates are urging an end to one of its central tenets, agreeing with Democrats to treat low-level drug offenders rather than incarcerate them. The Washington Post says the Republicans are selective about who is deserving of their compassion. A few GOP contenders have advocated treating the nation’s growing heroin epidemic as a health crisis, not a criminal one. Most stop short of advocating the same approach to other drug laws, notably those involving marijuana and crack cocaine, which disproportionately affect African Americans.
Such views highlight the resonance of the opiate epidemic and a persistent racial and geographic divide in politics. The heroin epidemic has overwhelmingly hit whites. It has also skyrocketed to the top of voters’ lists of political priorities in rural states, suburbs and the early voting state of New Hampshire, places that track with where Republicans must perform well to win back the White House. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie compares the moral imperative to treat drug addicts with rehabilitation to cancer treatments for smokers like his mother. “Just because you have a smart approach to dealing with the heroin epidemic does not mean that you have to be soft on crime,” said Dave Carney, a GOP strategist in New Hampshire. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee responded dismissively to concerns about the racial disparities that stronger crack sentences have produced, noting that those sentences were advocated by black community leaders concerned about the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s.
At least 48 people have died in the U.S. since January in incidents in which police used Tasers, but the link between the use of Tasers and the 48 deaths is unclear, reports the Washington Post. At least one deaths occurred when an incapacitated person fell and hit his head. Other factors mentioned among causes of death were excited delirium, methamphetamine or PCP intoxication, hypertensive heart disease, coronary artery disease, and cocaine toxicity. Twelve of the 26 cases in which the Post obtained autopsy reports or cause-of-death information mentioned a Taser along with other factors. More than half of the 48 suffered from mental illness or had illegal drugs in their system at the time. At least 10 were Tasered while handcuffed or shackled. Only one was female. Nearly 55 percent of the people who died were minorities. (The Guardian published its own account of deaths in Taser cases this year recently, tallying 47.)
Deaths after Taser usage by police are relatively rare, accounting for a small fraction of the people who die during or after encounters with officers, said a study by the National Institute of Justice. Research shows that when used correctly, the devices are generally safe and prevent injuries to both police officers and civilians. When Tasers are used excessively or if officers don’t follow department policy or product guidelines, the risk of injury or death can increase, according to company product warnings and police experts. Tasers are best known for their ability to incapacitate individuals while used in “probe mode,” when they fire two barbs that deliver an electric current along wires, causing the muscles to lock up. When placed against a person’s body in “drive stun” mode Tasers do not incapacitate but cause local pain that can be used to control dangerous individuals. Pain compliance, police call it. At least nine of the 48 cases this year involved individuals who were Tasered in the drive-stun mode.
ProPublica explores why gun reform proposals are almost always driven by mass shootings, not the more prevalent problem of urban gun violence. In 2012, 90 people were killed in mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. That same year, nearly 6,000 black men were murdered with guns. “The incidents of Newtown are very tragic,” says Michael McBride, a 37-year-old pastor from Berkeley, Calif. “But any meaningful conversation about addressing gun violence has to include urban gun violence.”
Gun violence in America is largely a story of race and geography. Almost two-thirds of America’s more than 30,000 annual gun deaths are suicides, most of them committed by white men. In 2009, the gun homicide rate was two per 100,000 for white Americans and nearly 15 per 100,000 for black Americans. Among blacks, the risk of gun violence is mostly concentrated among a small number of men. McBride is an advocate for the Ceasefire program, where police team up with community leaders to identify and counsel the young men most at risk of violence. In Boston, Ceasefire has been credited in a sharp declined in youth homicides.
At least 20 investigations across the federal government have been slowed, stymied or closed because of a long-simmering dispute between the Obama administration and its own watchdogs over the shrinking access of inspectors general to confidential records, reports the New York Times. The impasse has hampered investigations into an array of programs and abuse reports — from allegations of sexual assaults in the Peace Corps to the F.B.I.’s terrorism powers, officials said. And it has threatened to roll back more than three decades of policy giving the watchdogs unfettered access to “all records” in their investigations.
“The bottom line is that we’re no longer independent,” said Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general. The restrictions reflect a broader effort by the Obama administration to prevent unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information — at the expense, some watchdogs insist, of government oversight. The new restrictions grew out of a dispute within the Justice Department. After a series of scathing reports by Glenn Fine, then the Justice Department inspector general, on F.B.I. abuses in counterterrorism programs, F.B.I. lawyers began asserting in 2010 that he could no longer have access to certain confidential records because they were legally protected.
As the scope of human trafficking has gained international attention, Los Angeles County prosecutors have been targeting pimps--traditionally viewed as merely equally culpable partners in the prostitution trade--with charges that can carry significantly greater punishment than pandering, reports the Los Angeles Times. In 2014, prosecutors filed human trafficking charges against 81 people — up from 25 in 2013 and 18 in 2012. The office charged 40 people during the first six months of 2015.
The steady uptick began after voters passed Proposition 35 in 2012, stiffening sentences and making the cases easier to prosecute. The shift is part of a larger change among law enforcement officials nationwide, who increasingly view women and children involved in prostitution as victims, not criminals. Last week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced the creation of a task force to provide relief to victims of human trafficking. He also ordered his deputies to stop arresting children on prostitution charges.
A county task force studying what to do with downtown Miami’s 87-year-old courthouse recommended building a $360 million replacement — but the suggestion came with a dissenting opinion, says the Miami Herald. A draft version of the Miami-Dade Court Capital Infrastructure Task Force’s report declares that the county’s 1928 civil courthouse is no longer able to support the judiciary in a “dignified and technologically current” way. It urged construction of a new facility in downtown Miami with double the courtrooms.
Architect Maria Luisa Castellanos, one of seven task-force members, said she couldn’t go along with the idea of using so much government money on a judicial facility she described as a “want” instead of a “need.” Paying for the courthouse is a particularly challenging topic, since Miami-Dade voters last year rejected a proposed tax increase to spend $390 million on a new one. There was no chosen site for the new facility or plan for a new building, which backers said was desperately needed. County officials said issues were being addressed by ongoing repairs, leaving space as the primary challenge.
Would the reform of drug laws substantially decrease America's prison population? The Urban Institute showed earlier this year that cutting drug admissions in half would only reduce the state prison population by about 7 percent, leading some to say that ending the drug war will do little to end the mass incarceration crisis, reports the Washington Post. But in a new analysis, Brookings Institution fellow Jonathan Rothwell says arguments about the impact of drug reforms on prison populations overlook one key distinction: the difference between the number of people in prison at any given time and the number moving into and out of prison.
Rothwell calls this "stock and flow." He points out that while drug offenses only account for 20 percent of the prison population, they make up 31 percent of the total admissions to prison. The reason for the difference? Drug offenders typically serve shorter sentences than murderers or other violent criminals. So simply looking at the number of people in prison at a given point in time understates the true impact of drug laws on incarceration. Rothwell agrees that rolling back the drug war won't end mass incarceration. "But it could help a great deal," he writes.
Kentucky's public advocate has been pushing for reforms and more resources to ease the burden on the state's overworked public defenders for years — but this time he may have some unlikely allies, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. “There’s a growing group of people across the political spectrum who want something different,” said Kentucky Public Advocate Ed Monahan. He is pushing what he calls 10 common sense reforms amid plans by both conservative and liberals to discuss criminal justice issues in the legislative session that begins in January.
Almost every Kentucky public defender carries a caseload higher than the maximum national standard, putting the quality of representation at risk. And with starting salaries that are among the lowest in the region — $38,770 a year, compared to $47,000 in Indiana — the department has had a tough time recruiting and retaining attorneys. Among other things, Monahan is urging policymakers to reclassify minor misdemeanors as violations; create a “gross misdemeanor” classification for low-level felons; promote employment and reducing recidivism by allowing expungement of Class D felonies; reduce jail time by creating a “clear and convincing” standard for the pretrial release decision, and use the idea of presumed parole for eligible low-risk offenders.
TCR at a Glance
new & notable November 27, 2015
The incarceration rate for women in the U.S. is twice the rate of China and nearly four times as high as Russia's, researchers found.
new & notable November 26, 2015
In some cases, defendants may claim that they were following rules and complying with technical regulations—or they did not realize...
commentary November 25, 2015
The Justice Department has played a major role since 1994 in forcing police to reform. How do we measure its achievements?
new & notable November 24, 2015
As states begin to implement criminal justice reforms, judges and prosecutors will likely start to use risk and needs assessment informat...
November 21, 2015
The authors of the Paris attacks now lead global groups whose criminal activities are the ‘life blood’ of terrorism, says a l...
November 20, 2015
Local political races and smarter policing are key to justice reform, a Washington conference is told.
November 19, 2015
Sen. Gary Peters tells criminologists meeting in Washington that the odds are improving for a "top to bottom" review of the justice system.